On the News With Thom Hartmann: Global Inequality Keeps Getting Worse, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Global inequality just keeps getting worse; Walmart decides to go in to banking; three judges stand up for voting rights in North Carolina; and more.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. Global inequality just keeps getting worse. According to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – the OECD – income inequality has reached levels that we haven’t seen in almost 200 years. The report reviewed data from eight regions around the world, and discovered that the gap between the rich and poor has returned to the levels of the Industrial Revolution. And, while the study’s author may not have come right out and said it, much of this inequality was brought on by the disastrous economic policies of Ronald Reagan. The report says, “It’s hard not to notice the sharp increase in income inequality experienced by the vast majority of countries from the 1980s. There are very few exceptions to this.” In other words, slashing budgets, privatizing the commons, cutting taxes for the rich, and waging war on workers has destroyed all of the economic equality that was created over the past two centuries. The secretary-general of the OECD, Angel Gurria, spoke in France about this report, and called on world leaders to “strengthen our efforts to reduce inequality.” We know how to fix this. We must continue to fight for higher wages for the working poor, and demand that the super rich contribute more to their nations. We must elect lawmakers who will invest in our infrastructure and education, and punish the massive corporations that exploit workers and our planet. These aren’t new solutions, they’re common sense, and we need fight for them before inequality brings us even further back in our economic history.

Walmart isn’t satisfied by screwing the poor with low wages and crappy products, so, they’ve decided to go in to banking. The retail giant was previously denied a banking charter by U.S. regulators, but a new partnership with the Green Dot Corporation means that Walmart will soon offer checking accounts. What could possibly go wrong? According to a recent article on Alternet.org, Walmart says they’re trying to help the poor by offering accounts with no overdraft fees or minimum balance. However, the retailer isn’t mentioning the fine print. In order to open an account at Walmart, you’ll need to purchase a “starter kit” for three bucks, and make a minimum deposit of $20. Then, customers will have to pay $2.50 to use an out-of-network ATM, and keep a balance of $500 or pay another $9 a month in fees. While that may not sound like a lot to some people, it could be a big hit for someone living on minimum wage. And, fees can rack up quickly if someone falls behind. The fact is, the too-big-to-jail banks already get away with outrageous fees and fines, and they don’t need Walmart’s help to rip off more Americans.

If you aren’t sure why elections matter, just take a look at our court system. Last week, three judges – all appointed by Democrats – stood up for voting rights in North Carolina. Only days earlier, the most conservative members of the Supreme Court issued a stay to slash early voting in Ohio. The three-judge panel on the Fouth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed North Carolina’s new voting laws, and put a stop to two of the provisions that would have disenfranchised many voters in the upcoming election. While the democratic appointees declared “the right to vote is fundamental,” the right-wing justices on the Supreme Court allowed Ohio’s restrictive voting laws to stay in effect this November. To make matters worse, our nation’s highest court didn’t even hear arguments in the Ohio case, or provide any justification for their ruling. The distinction is clear. Judges appointed by Democrats understand that voting is a fundamental right in our nation. Judges who were appointed by Republicans see no problem with limiting our ability to participate in the democratic process. Elections matter for many reasons, but they’re effect on our judicial system may be the biggest reason why we have to get out and vote this November.

The United Nations recognizes that water and sanitation are basic human rights, but apparently, our bankruptcy courts don’t agree. Last week, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steve Rhodes told Detroit residents that they have no legal right to clean, running water. Judge Rhodes is presiding over the Detroit bankruptcy, and residents were calling on him to impose a six-month moratorium on water shut offs while they try to reach an agreement on past-due bills. Not only did the judge decide that “there is no such right or law” that guarantees clean water, he even rejected the belief that “service [should be] based on ability to pay.” Experts from the United Nations have already called the water shutoffs “a violation to the human right to water and other international rights,” and tens of thousands of people around our nation have called on lawmakers to protect the low-income residents of Detroit. In the richest nation on Earth, it is unimaginable that our fellow Americans are forced to live without water. It’s time that lawmakers step in and stand up for the people of Detroit.

And finally… Here in the United States, the cost of a college education continues to rise. In Germany, however, every student – including international students – can attend a university for free. Last week, the German state of Lower Saxony abolished all tuition fees, and became the last of that nation’s seven states to determine that education is a right, and not a privilege. The Minister for Science and Culture in Lower Saxony said, “We got rid of tuition fees because we do not want higher education [that] depends on the wealth of the parents.” Another official said, “Tuition fees are unjust,” and explained that ensuing access to a free college education “is a core task of politics.” Meanwhile, Republicans in the US Congress refuse even to provide relief for students struggling with college debt. As higher education costs continue to go up, more low-income Americans are deciding to skip out on earning a degree. We can’t allow education to become a privilege of the rich. It’s time for our nation to follow Germany’s example and give every student the right to a free college education.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of October 6, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.